Cast: Denzel Washington, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pine
Director: Tony Scott
Runtime: 99 min.
Verdict: A fair genre exercise cutting a fair political metaphor, with what I suspect is a fairly socialist agenda.
Unstoppable is about an unmanned freight train that is bursting through little towns at full throttle with three cars worth of explosive content. It is a missile yes, which makes the film a subject of the disaster genre. But then, there’s the train, with its locomotive flashing two bright lights and one wouldn’t be wrong to consider a subject of the creature genre. Sort of like an explosive Anaconda the size of Godzilla on the loose. This visual metaphor is of course not lost on Mr. Scott, as no metaphor is, who, in one sequence, has the locomotive 777 literally rear up from behind the woods. Here are a few frame grabs, and again I say that I’m not doing justice to the acceleration Mr. Scott puts into here.
The potential victim
The creature lurking?
Yes, the acceleration and overt preoccupation with the plasticity is a little off-putting in a film as this where the framing and editing successfully construct not merely a cinematic metaphor but a feel of the current economic mess. Consider an obvious frame of reference in Speed. In the clear, precise elegance of its images, we remember a film where the world is neat and tidy (the US that Hollywood so beautifully sells). Remember the color combination in Speed. Of course you wouldn’t, not unless you had watched it yesterday, but between the overall brightness (it is sunny all the way) of its images, the almost sparkling new luster, and its color scheming of shades towards the white end of the spectrum (except for the Dennis Hopper house which is dark), we have a film that feels clean and clear.
Mr. Scott has created exactly the opposite for Unstoppable. There are many moments where the speeding train is virtually indistinguishable from its surroundings and the foreground (which often is a lot of trees). The sun is often on break. The texture has a dirty feel to it, not grainy per se, but quite often the objects feel hard to be pinned down. Riding through sleeping towns (not the L.A. of Speed), signifying a seeming concern with the middle class, this unpindownable more than unstoppable agent of destruction is a decent image. More so concerning the characters, who range from the symbols (the careless people who caused this tiny thing to blow to such enormous proportions, or the man in-charge who is just bothered for himself) to placeholders to Mr. Washington and Mr. Chris Pine cutting two real heartwarming folks. Their problems, although of the shelf, feel genuine and the big reveal at the end is the kind of fantastic one-two knockout punch moment such genre films rely heavily on the success of. Yeah, one could fault it for harboring a more naïve kind of socialist agenda, where the incumbent are no-good buffoons, while the working class should be the master of their own fate with direct access to the uppermost levels of power. But then, that comes with the territory, so to speak.
The one big failing here is the editing of the content. Modern Hollywood’s cutting of action, where it is more towards a set of still images stuck together than a motion video, affects us like montage. The fluid kind of action of yore would not merely burn the images onto our brain but also store them on the memory disk. Here, we might not remember too much, but the images are burnt fair and clear alright, and when our brains assemble the whole picture, we immediately notice glaring inconsistencies. As is the case here, where some of the action just doesn’t make sense. Nevertheless, Unstoppable is a heartwarming genre film. I leave you with a few more images, extending the sequence above, and how Unstoppable though a fair metaphorical exercise doesn’t cut its action too well.
The man is terrified.
Cut to the train. A shot of a man in absolute panic to a reverse shot of an oncoming can only burn one image onto our brains. That the man can see the train.
The train is near. The end is nigh, right?
And magically out of nowhere, in the next shot a deviating track appears. And the day is saved. The moral of the story? Typical Hollywood: It might be unstoppable, but then you could pass right by it with only the wind blowing your hair.